Eye on ECCS: Pioneer Ridge Middle School

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NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!

When was the last time you saw students actively hurrying to class, and they weren’t running behind? That was Pioneer Ridge Middle School teacher Mike Powers’ fifth-period class on Tuesday.

The giddiness for the engineering space to open, for class to begin, had reached a level of mild craze when Powers appeared in the hall, having just returned from subbing in art class.

What was all of the excitement for? Hot air balloons. Yes, you read that right.

On this day, final preparations were being made on some creations, while others were still in the build mode. What did the balloons consist of? Tissue paper and glue. The larger the balloons, the larger the work group (three and four students), while pairs worked on smaller sized creations.

The work in the room halted momentarily as the first completed balloon began to inflate over an electric air pump. After finding a few holes, those spots reglued, the test flight was ready. Lift off!

When all of the balloons are ready, Powers and the class will take them outside to launch into the sky. “I just hope they don’t land on 212,” he said.

This project is just one part of the “history of flight” in Powers’ design and modeling engineering class. Students already built kites. It’s more than hands-on learning though. Students must first research the topic, learn the history, before they can build. And the learning doesn’t stop upon completion. Groups must take photos and videos and document the entire process and submit a one-minute video on what they learned.

By the end of the “air and space” portion of the semester, students will have completed four projects and four minutes of video. Indoor transportation is the next lesson. Students will design hovercraft boards.

You’re running to Mr. Powers’ class in your head right now, too?

Engineering classes are just one of the encore classes, or electives, students may choose each semester.

The fifth period tour started in Scott Prescott’s sixth grade band class. To be in this band, students were required to play in the fifth grade band at their elementary school. The class, after warming up, shifts from the IGNITE portion of the lesson into the CHUNK where they will focus on the songs that need the most work. The CHEW and REVIEW final portion is dedicated to songs that are progressing better.

The class is preparing for their fall concert on Thursday, Oct. 27, in the school gymnasium.

Joined on the tour by principal Amy Nelson, in her second year at Pioneer Ridge Middle School after 20 years in Minneapolis Public Schools – all in middle schools – she talks about the importance of electives. “Every kid can shine in their own way,” she said.

Middle school is such an important time in students’ educational journey. It’s that mid-schooling crisis some adults go through. But instead of buying a new car, middle school students at times find themselves needing a push.

“It’s a really special time. I look at middle school as a time where we teach them everything we can teach them,” Nelson said. The hope is to recapture or rejuvenate students as they prepare for high school.

On the lower level of the building, the tour bounces back-and-forth between FACS/food science and Spanish. Carter Hausmann, already a student favorite in her third year at the school according to Mrs. Nelson, walks the class through their plan for the period. Groups of two students are to choose a topic from the chemistry of food list – some examples were melting, freezing, frying, fermentation, digestion – and complete three tasks.

1. Research the topic and describe it in their own words.

2. Find out what or how is it happening?

3. Is it a physical or chemical change, and what makes it that type of change?

Students were given large sheets of paper and markers to design a board to present to the class.

Across the hall in Senora Mariah Herkenhoff’s Spanish class the students shift from a timed quiz on their Chromebooks to a group project involving a rompecabezas, or puzzle in English. The students in each group work together to piece the parts in a way that matches up words in English to Spanish.

Herkenhoff is in her first year at Pioneer Ridge and is already hitting jonrones (home runs) with the students. The reward jar of Jolly Ranchers goes a long way. The benefit of taking Spanish in middle school is it earns students high school credits.

After watching the balloons in flight inside the engineering space, our final stop is in the orchestra room where sixth grade students new to string instruments have an option in performance music. Katie Kowalkoski, who leads orchestras at Chaska and Chanhassen high schools, moves around the room, setting an example with posture and how to properly hold the instrument.

Nelson said many of these new performers remain involved in orchestra throughout middle school.

This is just a sampling of the wonderful elective courses available to these Pioneer Ridge Middle School students. Mr. Murnane has art classes such as Weird & Wacky Art and Studio Art, Animation & Design. Or there's Mr. Johnson, who teaches choir throughout the school day for all three grades.

Plenty of options for each Trailblazer to shine!

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